Twelve years ago, Sheila Matthews says, the New Canaan school district said her 7-year-old son had ADHD. He’d been diagnosed “by a checklist,” she says, with questions like “Does he look out the window?” and “Does he interrupt the teacher?” Because of his condition, she was told he needed to be medicated with what she calls “psychiatric drugs.”
Sheila was unsure. “He was so small and thin,” Sheila says. “His pediatrician never saw a problem. I didn’t have the same behavioral experience as the school did. And I didn’t like the ‘mental illness’ label.”
Shortly thereafter, C-SPAN aired a congressional hearing covering what Sheila calls “drugging kids in school.”
“That was my experience!” she thought. She contacted a woman who spoke at the hearing — Patricia Weathers — and soon the two women formed an alliance.
AbleChild is a national parents rights organization dedicated to “protecting full informed consent and the right to refuse psychiatric services. Ablechild educates parents on the risks associated with drugging children and promotes a label and drug free education in our schools.” It has no religious or political affiliation.
Though Sheila — who recently moved to Westport — had no non-profit experience, she learned quickly. AbleChild now fields inquiries from around the world. Sheila has appeared on CNN and Fox News, and been quoted in Time magazine.
Able Child worked with Diane Sawyer’s team on a story about the financial aspect of psychiatric drugs. The piece highlighted the impact in foster care, where, Sheila says, “lots of indigent moms with nowhere to turn have their kids taken by the state, and drugged.”
Able Child backed legislation in Connecticut that says a child diagnosed with ADHD or other psychiatric labels need not be medicated to attend school. Federal law now prohibits schools from recommending or requiring that children take controlled substances.
I asked Sheila if she sees any role for what she calls “psychiatric drugs.”
“That’s not my business,” she says. “My mission statement is ‘informed consent.’
“Some moms in my organization do choose psychiatric drugs, while supporting Able Child. We’re just looking for objectivity. There are no blood tests or scans in the mental health field. All we want for parents is knowledge, so they can give consent — or not.”
Moving to Westport has been wonderful, Sheila says. She loves the water, the diversity of people, the creativity in town — and its beauty.
As for the 7-year-old son with the ADHD diagnosis?
He’s now 19, a rising junior at Bowling Green State University. (A younger boy is still in high school.)
“He’s so wonderful,” she says of her college son. “He’s very outgoing. He’s never been on psychiatric drugs.”
Twelve years ago, Sheila says, “I made the right choice.”
A dozen years later, she works so that other parents can make informed choices too.